Before the automobile age everyone—rich and poor—walked to work, to school, to church, to the movie house. The little town of Santa Cruz grew along a river, and the first fine homes of its shopkeepers and bankers and lawyers were built on the hills overlooking the river valley.
Mission Hill is one such hill and to this day is a neighborhood at the heart of Santa Cruz. It used to have quite a different feel however. The schools, businesses and hotels were used by and relied upon by people who lived there. People routinely walked back and forth between the Upper Plaza – the area of the old Mission Santa Cruz on the top of the hill where the homes and schools were; to the Lower Plaza – the bottom of the hill by the river where the businesses were.
The historic photo of Mission Street is an example of how different Mission Hill was in the late 1800s. It is lined with a multitude of businesses. The Santa Cruz public school proudly presides over the town. In the foreground is the St. Charles hotel, and at the end of the block is the Temperance Hall. On the left is a blacksmith shop. Although the roads are dirty and rutted, the children stand on wide clean sidewalks.
In the last hundred years, the width of Mission Street has doubled, and the row of shops and hotels up the hill are long gone. Few people live, work and shop all within Mission Hill and Mission Street is primarily a corridor for car traffic. Gone also is the grand school building, replaced by an office building that was built for the school district. The retaining wall, and the steps that led to the school remain.
Many thanks to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History for use of the historical photo.
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This piece is part of the Mission Hill Staircase Tour made possible by local history researcher Linda Rosewood. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.
- Personal communication with Linda Rosewood, Historian, Santa Cruz County, August 2015.